TV’s Trump News: Three-Fourths Impeachment and 93% Negative

January 13th, 2020 8:10 AM

In the first 100 days since House Democrats began their impeachment push on September 24, ABC, CBS and NBC have aggressively aided the effort. A Media Research Center analysis finds the Big Three evening newscasts have battered the President with 93% negative coverage and promoted impeachment at the expense of nearly all other Trump news.

At the same time, the broadcast networks donated at least 124 hours of wall-to-wall live coverage as they pre-empted regular programming in favor of House Democrat-led impeachment activities. On the other hand, the networks’ frenzy over impeachment has meant the Democratic presidential candidates have been barely visible on the evening newscasts, even though voting is due to begin in just three weeks. Details:

■ Bad news for President Trump: During impeachment, the networks kept up the same relentless negativity toward President Trump that they first displayed during the 2016 presidential campaign (see here, here and here for past reports, as well as a description of our methodology).

From September 24 through January 1, we tallied 1,053 evaluative comments about the President, 93% of which were negative. (If you can’t wait 700 words, scroll down now to find out how TV news spun their coverage of the 2020 Democrats. Spoiler: It’s NOT 93% negative.)

It’s pretty clear by now that reporters aren’t going to reward the President with much good press even for obvious achievements such as the strong economy or the victory over ISIS terrorists in Syria (including the killing of their elusive leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi).

But impeachment has increased the sheer amount of this negative coverage, as well as meant even less airtime for the administration’s policy achievements.

■ Impeachment has taken over the evening news: In the first 100 days since Pelosi announced the start of the House impeachment inquiry on September 24 (through January 1), ABC, CBS and NBC have generated a combined 849 minutes of evening news coverage about the subject.

For comparison, after Special Counsel Robert Mueller was named back on May 17, 2017, it took those same newscasts more than twice as long (until December 29 of that year, or 226 days) to register the same amount of airtime for the Russia investigation. In other words, the networks are spending more than twice as much airtime on the Ukraine probe as they did on the Russia probe.

The evening news resources being poured into the Ukraine/impeachment coverage, which alone accounts for nearly three-fourths (74.3%) of all of their Trump coverage, left little time for other topics. During these 100 days, there’s been paltry coverage of the President’s handling of North Korea (19 minutes) and immigration (17 minutes), both major topics in the past.

The administration’s trade talks with China were given just over six minutes of coverage during these 100 days, while the successful effort to get the USMCA trade deal through the House received a scant 66 seconds of airtime. Total coverage of the administration’s economic program: just nine minutes, or barely one percent of the airtime spent on impeachment.

■ Daytime special coverage: In an extraordinary step, the networks also pre-empted huge swaths of their regular programming for live coverage of House Democrats’ impeachment activities, including several days of hearings in November and early December, and the not-very-suspenseful final floor vote on December 18.

Based on our viewing of the networks’ Washington, D.C.-area affiliates, NBC provided at least 44 hours, 32 minutes of live coverage outside of their regular news shows, including a whopping ten hours on the day of the House vote. ABC and CBS were close behind, offering more than 40 and 39 hours of live coverage, respectively.

Such unusual coverage aims to build up the significance of the event in the viewer’s mind — suggesting an historic moment on par with the Kennedy assassination or 9/11, not a futile partisan exercise. But Nielsen ratings showed the public didn’t seem interested with the hearings conducted by the House Intelligence Committee.

And polls collected by RealClearPolitics indicated all of this coverage might have actually hurt the Democrats’ efforts. On November 12 (the day before the hearings began), a slight plurality favored impeaching and removing the President, 49% to 47% against. By December 19 (the day after the House voted to impeach), those figures had reversed — 48% opposed to removal, vs. 47% in favor.

While that’s obviously not a big shift, these polls show that the massive publicity push of hearings and live events did absolutely nothing to bring any new support to the Democrats’ side.

■ Where are the 2020 Democrats? Even though there seems to be essentially no chance that impeachment will actually remove Donald Trump from office, the publicity surrounding the House Democrats’ efforts has starved their party’s presidential candidates of mainstream media attention.

While the ABC, CBS and NBC evening newscasts spent 1,143 minutes covering President Trump, the top Democrat, former Vice President Joe Biden, received a mere 107 minutes of coverage — and most of that (78 minutes) consisted of references to the investigations of Biden and his son, Hunter, that the President talked about in his phone call with the President of Ukraine. Biden’s actual campaign was barely noted: Just 29 minutes, or about 1/40th of Trump’s total.

Other top Democrats were just as invisible: Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg received 30 minutes of network attention as he entered the race in November. Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders each logged about 24 minutes of airtime (most of Sanders’ coverage was of his recovery from a heart attack in early October).

Pete Buttigieg, the now-former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, who vaulted to the top of the polls in Iowa and New Hampshire during the past 100 days, received a meager 7 minutes, 43 seconds of evening news coverage during this period, while Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar managed just 5 minutes of airtime.

Apart from “horse race” statements about each candidate’s standing in the race (not counted in our positive/negative spin score), there were too few evaluative statements of the Democratic candidates to report individual statistics. But the four candidates atop the polls during this period (Biden, Sanders, Warren and Buttigieg) together received 31 positive statements, vs. 26 negative statements, for a combined score of 54% positive press.

(Methodology: To determine the spin of news coverage, our analysts tallied all explicitly evaluative statements about each candidate from either reporters, anchors or non-partisan sources such as experts or voters. Evaluations from primary rivals or other partisan sources, as well as neutral statements, were not included.)

As for President Trump, evening news viewers heard 72 positive statements vs. 981 negative statements during the same period, for a 93% negative spin score. While most citizens would want their media to be even-handed in their coverage of candidates, the networks seem poised to be as lopsidedly negative in their coverage of Trump’s 2020 campaign as they have been in their coverage of his presidency.